Culture, Travel & Sport

New documentary pays tribute to Polish and Hungarian WWII heroes

As the world commemorates the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, Poland has been paying tribute to one its greatest war heroes, and the brave Hungarian who helped him.

The Polish public television station TVP and the Institute of National Remembrance of Poland has released a new documentary about Henryk Sławik, a Polish politician and social activist and József Antall Sr., a Hungarian government commissioner who joined forces to save more than 5,000 Jews from being deported by the Nazis.

Mr Sławik, who was a local, social democratic politician in Katowice and later went on to become a journalist, joined the Polish army after Nazi forces occupied Poland in September, 1939.

Following a brief period of imprisonment in Hungary after serving in the Carpathians, he got to know Mr Antall, who, at that time, served as the Hungarian government’s commissioner for refugees. The two became very close friends and Mr Antall eventually hired Sławik to assist a Hungarian governmental commission tasked with ensuring the safety of the more than 100,000 Polish people seeking refuge from the cruelties of war.

They also had a confidential assignment too: they had to explore ways to smuggle Polish men to France to join fellow Poles fighting German forces in Western Europe, while Mr Sławik secretly served as a delegate for the Polish government-in-exile.

After the Nazi-friendly Hungarian government started differentiating Polish refugees, fearing what the Nazis would do to them, Mr Sławik and Mr Antall started issuing false papers for Polish refugees. Until Hungary’s 1944 occupation by German forces, the two issued false passports for more than 30,000 Polish refugees, including 5,000 Polish Jews.

Mr Sławik was also responsible for setting up a home for Polish officers that secretly took care of Jewish orphans.

He refused to leave Hungary after Nazi forces invaded the country as his wife had been arrested. He was arrested himself on March 19, 1944, then tortured a number of times for not revealing the names of his associates who helped Polish Jews escape Hungary. He was later taken to the Gusen concentration camp in Austria, where he was executed in August 1944.

Despite being arrested by the Gestapo, Mr Antall was fortunate enough to survive the war. He later became an MP for the Hungarian Agrarian Party until Hungary’s new tyrants, the communists, pushed all opposition lawmakers out of the country’s parliament.

Speaking at the celebratory premiere of the film on February 3, Adam Kraśnicki, the film’s director, said that his work was an attempt to look at the two characters in the context of the historically close relations and the shared history of Poland and Hungary.

“With this story we have to go outside of Poland and not only to Hungary,” Jarosław Szarek, the head of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance said. He hopes that one day someone will take the story of the two heroes to the international screen in a way similar to how Steven Spielberg told the the story of Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who took similar risks to save Jews.

The documentary, titled Oto człowiek – rzecz o Henryku Sławiku i Jozsefie Antallu (Here is the Man – The Story of Henryk Sławik and József Antall) was also dedicated to Tomasz Kurpierz from the Katowice Institute of National Remembrance, who wrote a book about the fascinating and tragic story of Mr Sławik.

As well as several distinctions for their bravery, the memory of Mr Antall and Mr Sławik is also preserved by memorials in Budapest and Warsaw.

Photo: Official website of the XI District of Budapest